The internet is full of innocuous, time-sucking crap. In the time it takes me to write something of actual substance, I’ve been buzzfed 29 of the most amazing pictures that look like photos but really aren’t, I’ve liked at least a dozen photos of creme caramel, and I’ve pinned at least 17 different photos of someone growing beans or a pumpkins over an arbor.
I am as bad as everyone else in that respect. It is through this lens that I ask you to read the following post. Because for me to somehow suggest I’m above any of the things I’m criticising is pretty bloody hypocritical.
Three weeks ago I had emergency surgery. There was something in me that needed to come out. It was all very dramatic, thank you very much. Suffice to say ‘I’m fine’. Thanks to the miracle that is modern medicine I was back on my feet after just a few short days, and travelling to Perth and then Japan not long after that.
I was travelling to Perth for the fourth annual food blogging conference known as ‘Eat Drink Blog’. Having spent a bit of time on the other side of the table at last years conference, I was looking forward to spending some time catching up with people I knew, getting to know others I didn’t, and generally letting my hair down and enjoying being in a beautiful place, with great food and good company. And it was all of those things. I got a little merry (thank you Westwinds crew and the Sydney ladies), ate far too much and had to wear my stretchy pants on the long flight between Perth and Tokyo.
Late last night I came across a twitter ‘fight’ (we have those now?) between a group of bloggers essentially arguing about whether it was OK to accept sponsorship from PRs when writing your blog. This stemmed from a highly charged session at the conference, where one person argued that it is impossible to remain objective when receiving freebies and another argued that being selective in your dealings with PR companies was totally OK, and a number of resultant blog posts that appeared shortly after. There are a range of side-thoughts in the same vein- ie. are food bloggers journalists (No), do we have a responsibility to our readers (Maybe), and is it OK for someone to work in PR but in their personal life openly reject the very idea of it (*beard stroke*).
I read all of this through the lens of just having had emergency surgery, praising the magic sky-fairy that I was still alive and able to spend time with my loved ones, while reading about how our Immigration Minister is preventing a new mother from spending time with her baby because she had the audacity to flee a war-zone and seek asylum in a country where we enjoy the freedom to talk about such issues as whether accepting a free packet of Twisties is ethical or not.
Call me cynical, maybe I’m that annoying person at the dinner party who is always pointing out your first world problems (yeah, sorry about that chums) but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? The climate is changing and more than half of us couldn’t give a shit about it; we’re locking people up in detention centres causing irreversible harm to their mental health, and every night in Australia alone more than 100,000 people are sleeping rough – and we’re worried about whether or not someone can be objective when they are sent something free by a PR company?
If only we could all get as puffy chested and self-righteous about things that actually matter, eh?
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, and I’m quite sure I’ll be criticised for it (which I’ll be feeling sad and pouty about for at least 3-4 minutes) but to be honest I just find it all terribly boring and beige. My initial reaction to all of this is that there are far more things to be worried about than whether or not I should accept a free thingymajiggy from Betsy at the Trader Shop (not a real company). But then I remember that, no, this stuff is important. Because, let’s face it, there are some really shitty companies out there who do Bad Things like pollute rivers in third world countries, cut down old growth forests to provide more land for their cattle to graze, and create pesticides that are killing the bees.
But then how do we deal with all this and still have fun? Further, aren’t there some great restaurants and companies out there doing Good Things that are worth talking about? Many of the blogs and comments I’ve read in response to this matter have said they write for fun, to pursue an interest or improve their writing or photography skills. For me, it started as a way to share recipes with friends and reignite my interest in photography. When we start talking about ethics it’s an entirely new prospect for some people, indeed many of the conversations I’ve had with newbie bloggers in recent times have been about how to navigate this landscape. I can therefore understand, and indeed relate to, the point of view of many bloggers who say they just do what feels right to them.
‘I just thought I was getting some free saucepans… now I’m a baby-killer?’
The aggressive, condescending manner in which some people argue their point of view on all of this is not helping our cause to raise awareness of the real issues in the food industry. To publicly humiliate someone for having a different opinion is just plain tacky. You can be as true and authentic as you like, but ultimately if you do something to cause another person to feel bad about themselves then you are no better than the person who accepts that free bag of chips that you so heartily criticise. That is ultimately what I hate about this kind of crap – ‘I’m great because I feel validated by my worldly position on subject matter a, I therefore look down my nose on you, peasant, who does not feel the same way’.
Ultimately, I tend to see both sides of the anti-PR argument, I get that there are malevolent forces at play in all walks of life, and that malevolent forces prey on the unsuspecting food blogger who unknowingly spriuks a product made by Satan himself. And I agree with you that that shit ain’t right. But I suppose where I differ from others in my approach to this is in the area of blame.
Activism and change-making happens when we acknowledge that everyone starts from a different level of understanding. Our lived experiences are all different, coloured by tragedy, indifference and everything in between. If you, the food blogger doesn’t realise you have just become a shill for Satan, are you a bad person? Would you prefer it if someone sneered and judged you behind your back, or worse, mocked you openly in front of 80 of your peers, or would you prefer it if that person took the time to explain to you why perhaps you should not accept any more freebies from Satan, and left you to make up your own mind?
It seems to me that the second option actually helps people grow and understand the role they play in The Conversation. After all, we spend a lot of time talking about how important and influential we all are, maybe we should actually do something with that influence and be a part of the movement for change. It takes less energy to dig in your heels and maintain an opinion about something (even when you know it might very well be wrong) than to concede to an aggressor that they are right and you have fucked up.
Anyway, am I making sense here folks? Perhaps the organisers at next years conference could consider running a session about the politics of the food industry and the role bloggers can play in creating a better world. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, and many will vague out and think about the cupcakes that are being unloaded for afternoon tea, but what if we help change the mind of just one person in the room? If you think something is important enough to chastise another person about then it is probably worth putting in the effort to help make that person (and countless others around them) understand a different point of view and why they should think carefully about what and who they write about. And if they don’t? Well then you totally have the right to punch them in the face.